NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — France's foreign minister said Tuesday during a stop in Niger that the attackers who carried out last week's double suicide bombings on a military camp and a strategically important uranium mine had help on the inside, the latest indication of the scope of the attacks which killed a total of 35 people.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Niger's capital: "The terrorist groups benefitted from a certain level of complicity."
He also confirmed Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's earlier claim that the al-Qaida-linked jihadists most likely came from southern Libya. It confirms fears that the extremists formerly based in northern Mali have simply re-grouped in the neighboring nation.
The May 23 attack was claimed by a brigade under the command of Algerian-born terrorist Moktar Belmoktar, as well as by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. Both groups are spinoffs of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaida's branch in Africa. Just after 5:30 a.m. last Thursday, their explosive-laden cars penetrated the back gate of a military garrison in the desert outpost of Agadez, and simultaneously slipped past a truck to enter the SOMAIR mine, operated by French nuclear giant, Areva, in the town of Arlit. The two towns are more than 100 miles apart and the attacks were so carefully coordinated that both cars exploded at nearly the same moment, killing 24 soldiers in Agadez and one employee of Areva in Arlit, as well as 10 jihadists, according to the most recent government tally.
The jihadist groups said the attacks were in retribution for France's military intervention in Mali, which began in January, and is aimed at flushing out the extremists from the France-sized territory in northern Mali that they had occupied in 2012.
Fabius reiterated his commitment to fighting terrorism, saying that they would remain at Niger's side. French special forces rushed to Agadez and helped killing the surviving jihadists, who had taken cover inside a dormitory.
In an earlier speech, Issoufou said that the attackers had come from southern Libya, and he warned that they are using their new Libyan sanctuary to prepare a possible attack in yet another country — Chad.
"In the case of Niger, our principal threat has moved from the border of Mali to the border of Libya," Issoufou said in a speech over the weekend, a copy of which was sent to reporters on Monday. "I confirm that the enemy who attacked us in Agadez and in Arlit, came from southern Libya, where at the same time a different attack aimed at Chad is being prepared."
Associated Press writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.